GREY & LIGHT SPIRIT

The “Grey & Light” expedition concept of the Himalayan Canyon Team 2021

 

For over 15 years, the Himalayan Canyon Team has roamed the Himalayas to open new canyons, (about 30) from easy to extreme, in Nepal and India. Remoteness, isolation, and engagement are the main characteristics of those huge Himalayan canyons—vertical drop varying between 1,000m to 3,310m for the highest, creating the biggest hurdles the team had ever faced in their career.

In 2004, Lionel Rias and Rodolphe Sturm had to be innovative to adapt to this wilder environment than what they were accustomed to, and they imagined a new technique, which they simply dubbed “light,” aka Dyneema technique. Light and fast, this modern technique brought a necessity for coherence in the wider process of opening these massive canyons. In 2005 then, with the technical help of Yann Ozoux and Greg Marzio, the “HCT technique” was developed. Based on the light technique from French cavers, it was adapted to the needs of abseiling in high Himalayan verticals.

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This radical way of organizing a canyoning expedition allows to shorten a descent by 50%, for both openings and repetitions, no matter the canyon type. It was key to succeeding in the 2011 expedition to open the gigantic Chamje Khola. Quoted V7.A7.Ex, the team managed to wrap up the 1st descent in 52 hours only—which included drilling and setting a few hundred mechanical anchors—while the recent repetitions from 2018 and 2019 took 4 and 7 days respectively.This technique appealed to a lot of manufacturers who supported the team during the following years, creating opportunities to test various prototypes, from the 1st canyoning drysuits (Vade Retro) to the 1st canyoning colored ropes (Beal), and specific bags and harnesses adapted to high vertical canyons (Aventure Verticale. Moreover, the "HCT Technique" soon inspired other international canyoning schools which integrated it in their teaching foundations.
 

Once the technical aspect had been solved in early 2005, an ethical question immediately came up to the team’s attention: “Going all around the world in order to satisfy our "hunter-warrior ego" in need of adrenaline, is a motivation genetically reasonable; but prehistoric times are long past and if we look at our planet’s health in 2020, sying that modern humans have changed things is an understatement. So, are our needs for travels and far away explorations selfish, even irresponsible? What can we do to compensate the carbon footprint left by these needs for adventure?”

The answer of the HCT members in the past was to exchange and transfer skills, to train local guides (both in Nepal and India), and to outline the canyoning activity on a national level (creation of the Nepal Canyoning Association and collaboration with the Nepal Tourism Board for instance). This idea of “compensating” allowed to technically and economically share and sustain a professional practice that was not previously accessible to local people. This new form of “sustainable development” allowed the team to be financially supported through grants (Expé and Millet), and labeled “National Expedition” in 2011 by the French Caving Federation (FFS/CREI). Moreover, after a few years, the “HCT’s educational exchange” concept has become an ethical template for some national canyoning schools that yes, keep developing and moving forward in that way, but also within the intrinsic limitations of the term “sustainable,” as argued later on.

Those 2 concepts—“light technique” and “sustainable development”—adapted to extreme canyoning, have already been internationally presented. Numerous conferences to introduce the movie “Chamje Khola” (by Laurent Triay); several articles in specialized newspapers illustrated with professional photographs by Sam Bié, relayed on the different HCT social media channels.​

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With all these actions, the Himalayan Canyon Team became a historical leader and an international reference in terms of remote canyoning expeditions and extreme opening. As a result, several other large canyon exploring teams followed this in their footsteps (for instance the expeditions of Malishan in Taiwan and Gloomy Gorge in New Zealand). On the other hand, the job of canyon photographer/videographer has developed and specialized, providing more and more quality content from such hazardous and difficult environments.

Now the 3rd and latest part of the Himalayan Canyon Team’s innovative spree is what comes next: the 2020 Koksar project. Before even starting preparations for this new expedition, dubbed “Koksar 2020,” in India, leaders of the HCT firmly believed they had to be in sync with the reality of the epoch and the accelerating environmental crisis. From 2004 to 2011, a lot has changed; and from 2011 to 2020 even more so! And the team is not inclined to keep their heads buried in the sand, refusing to question their actions or to take their responsibilities.

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Disturbing and paradoxical questions de facto exist today:

  • Should we cross the world once more to please our primitive needs, consciously and willingly increasing our individual carbon footprint?

  • Should we get ourselves involved in another “useless feat” and expose wonderful shots and inspiring stories on social networks afterwards, in search of ego boosts?

  • Should we keep on making our readers and viewers dream through our adventure movies, filmed in an untouched nature, so we can rid ourselves of this guilt about the collateral environmental impact of our actions?

  • Should we disguise our expedition as with a “scientific” or “cultural” documentary title of which the positive impact is not as high as the pollution it creates?

  • Should we continue to explore, equip and advertise unexplored places that will become “fun spots” for crowds of tourists craving for adventure, while we are aware of the troubles caused by commercial adventures such as the Everest or the Mont-Blanc’s ascensions, the airlifted repetitions of certain Himalayan canyons, or the climbing spot of Ton Sai Beach in Thailand?

  • Should we only continue and pretend to “compensate” our actions in the name of the aforementioned more canyoners flying in their country? Impacting not only the environment but also the local cultures that might still be slightly preserved from an omnipresent western influence

 

Lots of questions within complex times. In a world where the most basic need is eating and not every human being can afford it, is ecology not just a luxury for wealthy westerners in developed countries? What can we do, on a micro-level, when financial forces drive economies with no or little regard to the future of our planet? What can we do when we can biologically hardly imagine our planet’s future past our own? Give up, ignore, act? Cancel or maintain our 2021 Koksar expedition in India?

A priori:

  • Cancel the expedition would mean letting the opportunity for someone else to continue acting with no consideration for these issues, and who may as well not feel accountable for their actions.

  • Do nothing just means to close our eyes and remain passive in easiness…

  • Refusing to think about it is selfish and irresponsible if we take into consideration the next generations and poorer countries, and that would send the wrong message for the future of canyoning exploration.

 

Moreover:

Engage ourselves in another adventure could be a great opportunity to explore these issues. Gathering testimonies from different cultural points of view, telling stories, showing stunning and meaningful images could be a way to spread knowledge as widely as possible (which new communication mediums technically allow more easily than ever), and participate in elevating global consciousness towards these issues.

As direct witnesses and actors, this could be a leverage that could bring viewers, readers, canyon lovers, young generations, manufacturers, sponsors, festival organizers and other explorers to ask themselves those 3 fundamental questions:

  • In the actual environmental context, what is the future of remote expeditions?

  • How can we measure the impact of canyoning and of the development of our outdoors activities abroad?

  • How can we grow and develop mountain activities in a responsible manner?

 

Of course, we could side with nihilistic views that state that we would be naïve and arrogant to believe that Earth needs our help to save itself while the only thing that is exposed is the future of mankind itself. But if we could make the slightest impact by sharing this testimony of new experience and approaches, as conscious and responsible actors, the HCT has to try.

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So, a “green” expedition? No, we have to be realistic and not fall in the “greenwashing” trap! Conscientiously, Koksar 2021 will inexorably have a significant carbon footprint.

“Grey & Light” will be the key words of this new expedition in 2021; it is a sine qua non condition at all levels. With a planned communication strategy, the aim is to promote and present a movie on extreme canyoning, directed by Adrien Paris, French canyoning photographer and video-maker based in New Zealand. In the format of a 50-minute documentary, this movie will present an ambitious canyon opening in high altitude, at the heart of Himalayan India. But more than a sports and exploration documentary, it will try and emphasize the ethical reflection discussed above in the context of remote expeditions. No preaching of any sort, only observations and a different take on the adventure world (and business), in accordance with HCT’s past actions.

It probably will be one of the last remote expedition of the team, which ought to be expensive in carbon. The Himalayan Canyon Team will have to innovate once more to find another manner to practice and share their aquatic and vertical adventures, while limiting the socio-ecological impact. Night canyoning, during winter, going on foot, biking or horse-riding from our home country to the Himalayas, with equipment stemming from circular economy and eco-friendly practices (wool sweaters, hemp ropes, linen helmets, etc.) everything and anything is feasible! But this doesn’t mean it will be the end of 15 years of reflection, of exchange and actions abroad. Only the form, the equipment and the approach have to change, not the substance.

 

“The world is changing and if we don’t move forward, it means we are going backward”

 

Below are some concrete steps and alternative solutions to illustrate our Grey & Light efforts in India:

  • Select participants based on their yearly carbon footprint;

  • Limit the total amount of participants to its bare minimum (about 5 people in the canyon and 20 in total, which includes paragliders, drone operator, logistics, and rescue);

  • Favor participants already on location, and local operators and actors, thus limiting the use of inbound air transport (only 7 fight tickets to reach Delhi);

  • Set up the medical team (doctors and paramedics) and remote rescue operations if needed;

  • Reduce the use of motorized transportation means as much as possible, including no helicopters (only in case of medical emergency during the canyon descent);

  • Use the most environmentally-friendly and/or as much locally manufactured gear as possible;

  • Use as many natural and retrievable anchors as possible in order to leave almost no rigging devices or pieces behind in the canyon (and of course no fixed ropes or waste whatsoever, as always);

  • Involve manufacturers of canyoning equipment to develop and jointly test new ecological materials and technologies, to reduce the use of plastic-based gear;

  • Participate to expose the environmental issues linked to our activities more widely to manufacturers, brands, specialized media, outdoors festivals etc.

  • Select potential sponsors and festivals accordingly to our eco-friendly philosophy, no matter the size or prestige;

  • With the help of modern tools, calculate as precisely as possible the carbon footprint of the expedition and divide it by the number of participants to obtain an indicative ratio that could be used to compare with other expeditions and to work on lowering it in future projects;

  • Also based on this ratio, create and add a 4th criterion to the quotation of opened canyons, measuring the carbon footprint per person, giving a new reference for next expeditions, both openings and repetitions;

  • As comparative examples, put those individual ratios in perspective with our personal annual consumption ratios and other significant numbers of the global economy’s carbon footprint;

  • Observe and collect socio-environmental elements (figures and testimonies) linked to climate change and to the impact of an expedition such as that will be used in the movie, or will be available freely on the HCT website;

  • Use this website as a free database hosting all the technical and logistics elements (topographic maps, access information, pictures and movies, other related documents and tools), taking into consideration the polluting factor of internet use and data storage;

  • Promote more than just  a sport/adventure documentary, but an environmental reflection on our outdoors activities;

  • Conclude with understandings, decisions, concrete directions, alternatives, and maybe answers to all these questions so that our remote outdoors activities could be controlled to cause the least impact possible in local cultures (and more broadly in the environment), and therefore last in the time.

 

2020, a new decade begins, bringing a new take on the outdoors industry!